Researchers from the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC) at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have developed the first safe and sensitive way to monitor the production and clearance rates of amyloid beta peptide (Abeta) in the human central nervous system. According to the authors, the new testing process opens a valuable window into the genesis of Alzheimer's disease that, in addition to helping scientists better understand the origins of the condition, will likely help them improve its diagnosis and treatment.
The scientists' results will be published online on June 25 by Nature Medicine.
High levels of Abeta in the brain are a hallmark of Alzheimer's disease and believed to be a pivotal cause of the condition. Tests that measure Abeta levels in the cerebrospinal fluid have been available for some time. However, those fixed assessments of Abeta gave no indication of whether the flood of Abeta in patient's brains came from an increase in the mechanisms that make the protein or a reduction in the processes that regularly clear it from the brain.
Because Alzheimer's symptoms take many years to develop, some researchers had assumed that the creation and clearance rates for Abeta were very slow. But the initial test of the new technique, applied to six healthy volunteers, suggests the opposite.
"Abeta has the second-fastest production rate of any protein whose production rate has been measured so far," says lead author Randall Bateman, M.D., assistant professor of neurology. "In a time span of about six or seven hours, you make half the amyloid beta found in your central nervous system."